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Legislators Push for Changes to Climate Bill, Urge Obama to Action

Rather than continue down the same cap-and-trade path that "has only increased division" within Congress over climate change legislation, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) last Wednesday called for the Senate to return to the drawing board to consider other options, such as a carbon tax, which is favored by some oil and natural gas producers.

Many of the major integrated producers, including BP plc and Royal Dutch Shell, are on record favoring a cap-and-trade plan (see NGI, Nov. 2; Oct. 19; Sept. 28). However, ExxonMobil Corp., which is one of the top producers in Alaska, is a strong advocate of implementing a carbon tax plan (see NGI, Oct. 2).

"We need to dispense with the blind faith in cap-and-trade that has dominated the past year of debate -- or at least question whether that loyalty is truly warranted," said Murkowski, the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, during a hearing exploring options other than the cap-and-trade approach for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

"Putting a specific and predictable price on carbon would provide cost certainty to consumers and businesses, minimize price fluctuations and perhaps facilitate greater international cooperation," she said.

Murkowski said she was concerned that the debate on climate change legislation has become "overly narrow." All options -- including technological innovation and sector-specific approaches -- should be on the table for reducing carbon emissions, she said.

"The main argument for cap-and-trade is that it would create a new market in which economically efficient and environmentally compliant decisions could be made. Despite this, the House and Senate bills display a clear lack of faith in the ability of a 'carbon market' to function on its own.

"If a given policy purports to reduce emissions, it should be allowed to do just that. Additional layers of bureaucratic regulation -- which are duplicative, inefficient and counterproductive -- should be taken off the table. And if a policy is not up to the task, either in theory or in practice, then we need to consider alternatives," Murkowski said.

Climate change legislation cleared the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in early November, while the House passed a climate change measure in late June (see NGI, Nov. 9; June 29). The Senate bill sets a 20% mid-term target for reducing GHG emissions, while the House measure calls for a 17% targeted reduction.

The Senate environment panel's bill will be one of several in the Senate targeting climate change. Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) , Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) are working together to craft legislation that could clear the Senate.

Meanwhile, nine centrist Democrats led by Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania Thursday sent a letter to President Obama spelling out the principles that they believe should be the core of any international climate policy negotiated in Copenhagen, Denmark.

"The United States cannot stop climate change alone -- success depends on marshaling an effective global response. Engaging developing nations will be especially important as they represent half of global emissions today and are expected to account for nearly all of the growth in future emissions," the senators wrote.

Climate change talks in Copenhagen are to begin on Monday (see NGI, Nov. 30).

The senators said the core principles to be articulated in a Copenhagen agreement should include reducing global emissions by 50% by 2050, with industrialized nations cutting emissions by 80% or more by that date; requiring all major economies to adopt ambitious, measurable and verifiable actions; addressing the trade implications of climate policy; providing incentives to developing nations to take ambitious and verifiable action on climate change; and helping the most vulnerable populations adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change.

In addition to Specter, the letter was signed by Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Begich of Alaska.

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